ORLANDO, Fla. – A former Orlando-area attorney is under investigation after a family claimed they paid him thousands of dollars to represent them, not knowing he was not licensed to practice law.
Bobbie Griffith said she lost her life savings after paying James Patrick Woods more than $70,000.
“The stress has been horrible,” she said. “This was my husband’s life insurance policy.”
According to an affidavit she filed with the Florida Bar, the organization that helps oversee the practice of law across the state, Griffith claimed she hired Woods to represent her in two business matters, one of them requiring the filing of a lawsuit.
According to the Florida Bar’s website, Woods is not eligible to practice law in the State of Florida.
“He said he was going to file with Orange County on behalf of me,” she said.
The lawsuit was filed in July 2019, according to the Orange County Clerk of Court, however, the lawyer listed on the lawsuit was Justin Infurna.
News 6 first reported on Infurna in January after 37 clients lodged complaints with the Florida Bar.
The Bar forwarded the findings of their Infurna investigation to the Florida Supreme Court, where they mentioned James Woods’ employment as part of their complaint.
They wrote: “Infurna has employed James Woods as a paralegal since 2017.”
“Mr. Woods is a disbarred or suspended lawyer,” they added.
“(Court rule) requires an attorney employing a suspended or disbarred lawyer as a paralegal to submit a notice of employment to The Florida Bar when employing an individual subject to this rule. (It) also requires an attorney employing a suspended or disbarred lawyer as a paralegal to submit sworn quarterly reports to The Florida Bar stating that the no aspect of the work done by the individual subject to this rule involved the unlicensed practice of law, that the individual had no direct client contact, and that the individual has not handled trust account funds,” according to the document.
Now, the Florida Bar confirmed they started a new investigation involving Woods.
News 6 contacted Woods to ask him about the allegations, and he did not want to comment.
According to the Florida Supreme Court, 243 attorneys have either been disbarred or had their licenses to practice law revoked over the last five years, 682 attorneys had their law licenses suspended, while 183 faced reprimands.
“The consequences of choosing the wrong lawyer could be very, very bad,” said Leroy Pernell, a law professor at Florida A&M University School of Law.
Pernell said consumers should choose an attorney like they choose a surgeon – carefully and with a lot of research.
“If there are concerns that come up, the Bar associations want to know about that. They want to be able to resolve those issues, and very often, it is a process of resolving those issues,” he said. “That isn’t necessarily true that simply because you make a complaint, the lawyer is going to be disbarred.”
Part of the research, Pernell said, could include the Florida Bar lawyer directory website, where you can see if your attorney has an active law license and whether or not they have faced discipline.
The Florida Bar also works with a non-profit referral service that can pair you with an attorney who specializes in the area you need.